Every May marks Arthritis Awareness month. Arthritis is generally a rather broad ailment and disease; however, it is also a mostly invisible disease. In other words, most arthritis sufferers look healthy on the outside, or look too young, or what have you. Though many types of arthritis afflict more than fifty million Americans, the disease itself is misunderstood in many ways.
In honor of Arthritis Awareness Month, it’s important to separate the myths from the facts and learn of the resources available to not only educate yourself, but to help those suffering with this disease. Additionally, May 20 is World Autoimmune Arthritis Day, which brings nonprofits, advocates, professionals, and others together in education and awareness for patients and supporters.
Myth: You’re too young to have arthritis.
Truth: Arthritis is a disease that encompasses more than one hundred different conditions and diagnoses. Arthritis is such a broad disease that any number of people could be affected. In fact, two-thirds of arthritis sufferers are under sixty-five, and more than three hundred thousand are children. Arthritis can take the form of a “wear and tear” disease (associated most often due to age, or osteoarthritis) and it can take the shape of an systemic autoimmune disease (in instances like rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, and many more). For example, I’m twenty-five years old and I have Ankylosing Spondylitis, which is an autoimmune arthritis that is degenerative on the spine. The age of onset for my arthritis is approximately eighteen to thirty-five.
Myth: Arthritis is not a serious health problem.
Truth: Arthritis is actually the leading cause of disability in the United States. For example, on a yearly basis, arthritis sufferers account for more than forty million outpatient visits and almost one million hospitalizations. Because a good number of arthritis diseases are degenerative, a lack of treatment directly correlates to activity limitations and serious health complications.
Myth: People who suffer from arthritis should not exercise.
Truth: This myth is extremely important to debunk. Unlike common thought, exercise is typically one of the most effective forms of treatment for individuals with arthritis. Though the pain could make physical activity more difficult, movement, stretching, and strength building help keep affected joints strong and limber. Put into perspective: Every one pound of weight loss results in four pounds less pressure on each knee joint.
Myth: There is nothing we can do for arthritis sufferers.
Truth: Organizations like The Arthritis Foundation work hard to research and advocate for more treatments and, we hope, a cure. It’s important to take hold of your life with arthritis by understanding what options you have with treatment (medications, exercise, therapies, pain management, and much more), managing your daily pain, and educating our officials to continue working toward helping people suffering from arthritis.
I can tell you from specific personal experience that arthritis is a complex and difficult disease; nevertheless, treatment is available and awareness is absolutely essential. With a proper plan, routine, treatment, and motivation, arthritis does not have to run your life. Though there is not a cure (especially for autoimmune diseases), most individuals can live a relatively normal existence once awareness and education are focused and acted upon.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from arthritis? How have you found relief?
Written by: Kristin M. Coppens is the West Michigan writer for A Healthier Michigan. She has written freelance for numerous outlets in Grand Rapids, and previously worked in marketing and public relations. A self-proclaimed foodie, techie,and political nerd, Kristin is a huge promoter of Grand Rapids, and of Michigan as a whole. Photo: stock.xchng